Yet his Christianity, like that of all other characters in the tale, is that of their age, not of ours, and men will differ as to its comparative merits. “Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required.”
The author dedicates this tale to his brother, engaged, like himself, in that most responsible task, the education of youth, in memory of those happy days when they pored together in rapturous delight over old legend or romantic lore in their father’s home at that very Clifton (now Clifton Hampden) familiar to hearers or readers of the tale as the home of Herstan, and the scene of the heroic defence of the English dwelling against the Danes. It will be a great reward for the Author’s toil should this little volume similarly gladden many firesides during the approaching Christmas, and perhaps cause some to thank God for the contrast between the Christmas of 1007 and that of 1874.
All Saints’ School, Bloxham.
CHAPTER I. THE DIARY OF FATHER CUTHBERT.
All Saints’ Day, 1002.
Inasmuch as I, Cuthbert, by the long-suffering of the Divine goodness, am prior of the Benedictine house of St. Wilfrid at Aescendune, it seems in some sort my duty, following the example of many worthy brethren, to write some account of the origin and history of the priory over which it has pleased God to make me overseer, and to note, as occasion serves from time to time, such passing events as seem worthy of remembrance; which record, deposited in the archives of the house, may preserve our memory when our bodies are but dust, and other brethren fill our places in the choir. Perhaps each generation thinks the events which happen in its own day more remarkable than any which have preceded, and that its own period is the crisis of the fate of Church or State. Yet surely no records of the past, extant, tell us of such dark threatening clouds as hang over the realm of England at this time; when the thousandth year since our blessed Lord’s nativity having passed, we seem to be entering on those awful plagues which the Apocalypse tells us must precede the consummation of all things.
But we who trust in the Lord have a strong tower wherein to hide, and we know of a land where there is no darkness or shadow of death; therefore we will not fear though the earth be moved, and the hills be carried into the midst of the sea.
This house of St. Wilfrid was founded by Offa, Thane of Aescendune, in the year of the Lord 938, and completed by his son and successor Ella, who was treacherously murdered by his nephew Ragnar, and lies buried within these sacred walls. The first prior was Father Cuthbert, my godfather, after whom I was named. He was appointed by Dunstan, just then on the point of leaving England to escape the rage of the wicked and unhappy Edwy, and continued to exercise the authority until the year 975, the year in which our lamented king, Edgar the Magnanimous, departed to his heavenly rest, with whose decease peace and prosperity seemed likewise to depart.